Sunday, November 19, 2017

Grind Time

Obviously, one of the most critical parts of the golf course operation is having mowers which cut properly.  While a homeowner's lawn may be cut with a rotary mower at 2", the greens are maintained with reel mowers, often set as low as 1/10".  When you are cutting this tight, there is little margin for error.  Height adjustments are made to the thousandth of an inch, and every mower is checked after each use.

As we are about to enter the season when mowers are overhauled by equipment technicians, the timing was perfect for us to host a seminar on the subject of reel maintenance.  This event, sponsored by Turf Equipment and Supply Company gave instructor Jim Nedin a chance to go into the topic in detail with a small group of local technicians. 

The morning session was spent in the classroom, discussing the theory of best practices for reel setup, along with common causes of improper cutting.  To maintain a precise, clean cut, there are many factors which need to be taken into consideration.  A technician needs to be aware of reel diameter, number of blades on a reel, bedknife options, and roller options. 



Then the afternoon session gave the group the chance to watch Jim as he gave a hands-on demonstration.  With a walking greensmower costing close to what a Nissan Versa does, proper care is a must.

We were happy to open our doors for this event.  It was a great opportunity for individuals to learn, while sharing their thoughts and experiences with others.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Big Break

Irrigation leaks are never any fun, and when the pipe size is 8", you can expect a big hole will be needed to make the repair.  Such was the case a week ago, when suddenly, up from the ground came a significant amount of water.

In situations like this, digging carefully is mandatory.  We not only don't want to rip the pipe out of the ground, but we also need to avoid damaging the myriad wires which run alongside the pipe.

Step two in this surgical procedure was cutting out the old tee.  Virtually none of the irrigation pipe on the golf course is glued together.  Instead it is pushed together using belled end pipe with gaskets.  Therefore, it is primarily the weight of the soil which holds the pipe in place.  However, where fittings such as tees and elbows are installed, concrete thrust blocks were poured to prevent the pipe from moving.  As you can see below, the concrete thrust block came out with the tee.

Once we had the tee out, we could finally see exactly where the problem was.  The ductile iron tee corroded to the point that its rubber gasket blew out.  Similar to a car's tire separating from the rim, once the gasket's seal was broken, water was able to freely escape the pipe.


When repairing pipes we no longer have the room to push pipe into a new fitting.  In a situation like this, some type of repair coupling is used.  There are many different kinds, but on the recommendation of an experienced irrigation contractor, we chose a repair coupling which was new to us.  One of the advantages to this model, is that there is only a single bolt to tighten on each end.  This may not sound like a big deal, but inevitably, tightening bolts on the bottom of a pipe in a muddy hole, is less than ideal.  One bolt, situated on top of the pipe is a big improvement.

Once the repair couplings were in place, we poured our own thrust blocks to prevent any possible pipe movement, and the couplings themselves are wrapped in plastic.  This way, should the repair ever need to be dug up, we won't have to be chipping concrete off the couplings.  The finished product may not look beautiful, but it is effective.

Again, these main line repairs are never a party.  However, to look at the glass as half full, the pipe wasn't eight feet deep, the wires were looped around the existing fitting giving us plenty of room to work, and it took place in November, not July!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How much rain?

One week ago, from Sunday to Monday, we had the largest rain event of the year, totaling 3.7".  Although this may pale in comparison to what some areas of the country have had to deal with, it still is a quantity that may be difficult to wrap your head around.

So, let's take a look at what 3.7" of rain really means to the course.  There are 27,154 gallons of water per acre inch.  When we multiply this by 3.7" you find that each acre received 100,470 gallons of water.  While the golf course property itself is 237 acres, when we include the surrounding residential area that drains onto the course, we come up with 477 acres.

So, how much water did the golf course have to deal with, either directly, or indirectly with this storm?  Try this number on for size: 477 acres X 100,470 gallons per acre = 47,924,094

That's right, almost 48 million gallons of water were handled by the golf course.  At 8.34 pounds per gallon, that's just under 400,000,000 pounds of water.

Had we asked Dr. Evil this question, it seems unlikely that his answer would have even been close.

Where did this hefty amount of water go?  Obviously, a good bit is absorbed into the soil.  The balance of the water is channeled into our extensive storm sewer system, where it fills the lakes on the course.  Once the ponds and lakes reach capacity, they will overflow into one of two tributaries of the Rancocas Creek, and from there, it is a short trip to the Delaware River.

The great news is that despite all of this rain, we were open with carts less than 24 hours after it stopped.  The golf course had a large drainage system installed when constructed, and we have continued to augment the drainage over the years.  At times like this, the payoff of having a good drainage system, which allows quick access to the course, is clear.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Fescue Renovation Update

Last month (see, Project Time), we discussed the upcoming renovation to the Fescue between #7 and 13.  Since then, we have made several applications of selective herbicides, for control of both broadleaf and grassy weeds.  Lo and behold, after one mowing, we now find that there is still some very good Fine Fescue in parts of this area.


On a small scale, this is good evidence that, given enough time and effort, once established, we can maintain a pretty pure stand of Fine Fescue.  Again, the keys are time and effort--"low maintenance" is definitely a misnomer.

With several applications of selective herbicides complete, we have separated the wheat from the chaff (or the Fescue from the weeds).  Parts of this space which have too little Fescue, and require sodding, can now be easily identified.

In these locations, an application of a non-selective herbicide was made recently.  As you can see below, a green tracker dye was used when applying the non-selective herbicide in order to see what sections were sprayed.

The story will continue next month as we prepare for a few tractor trailer loads of sod.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ignore the calendar!

If you looked at the calendar and have already put your clubs away for the year, you are really missing out on some of the best golfing weather and course conditions of the year.  This weekend's forecast was spectacular for late October.


It's pretty unusual that we are content with the weather.  More often than not, we feel like Goldilocks:  It's too hot, it's too cold, it's too wet, it's too dry.  However, from gorgeous sunrises to beautiful sunsets this weather is hard to beat.
A great picture from Mr. Christian Noyes.

From a course management perspective, the biggest challenge at the moment may be a lack of light in the morning.  To stay ahead of play, we are still starting at 6:00 a.m., and everything is a bit trickier for the first hour. 
Even with lights, mowing in the dark is challenging.
 
If you see the greens dotted for future pin placements, it's because choosing a good location is a whole lot easier to do when you have some light to work with, than in the dark.
Dotted during the day helps when it is dark out.

The clocks will be going back in two weeks, and eventually cold winter winds will be blowing.  So get out and take advantage of these special days while you can!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A game changer?

Greens aerification is not something that either golfers or turf managers enjoy.  While this process provides long-term benefits to the putting surface, in the short-run, the greens often resemble Swiss cheese.  For years, equipment manufacturers and turf researchers have looked to build a better mouse trap, by developing a method of aerifying which increases pore space, removes (or dilutes) thatch, all while causing minimal disruption to the surface.

For the past several years, we have used Dryject aerification in conjunction with a conventional core aerification in the spring.  Does Dryject create channels with lots of pore space?  Yes.  Does Dryject create minimal surface disturbance?  Yes.  So, to date, the only argument some might make, is that Dryject isn't doing enough to remove or dilute thatch near the surface.

A conventional Dryject machine following core aerification.


Dryject typically gets the sand deep into the profile.

Well, those who developed the Dryject nearly 20 years ago, were outside the box thinkers back then, and continue to be so today.  The new question for them is, can Dryject actually reduce organic matter/thatch percentage in a putting green without pulling a plug?

This is where Laurel Creek steps into the picture.  We are always happy to help with turfgrass research which could benefit the golf industry.  In this case, we are located very close to Dryject's world headquarters, and didn't hesitate to let them use our nursery green for some real world testing of their prototype aerifier.

In order to sufficiently dilute organic matter, a good deal of sand needs to be added to the upper part of the soil profile.  Therefore, the hole spacing needs to be much tighter than with a traditional Dryject.  In the picture below, the hole spacing was  a tight 2" X 1.5".  This provides three times more holes per square foot than the Dryject spacing we have used.  You will also notice, that unlike a typical Dryject hole, the sand is staying in just the upper few inches of the soil.




Below, Dryject President, John Paddock, is keeping an eye on the process, and perhaps contemplating the next change to the amazing machine.  Measuring spacing, checking depth, and weighing sand was the order of the day.


While it will definitely take some time to see if this is a viable long-term substitute for core aerification, it is tough to argue with the visual results.  In sticking with tradition, the Dryject disturbance was minimal.  Below, is a picture of the nursery green just four days after the testing was done.


Who knows, the day may actually come, when aerification isn't considered to be a four letter word by many golfers.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Proper Planning

The Clubhouse expansion, and splash pad projects are now well underway, and it is great to see excavation work moving along quickly.  You might not think that these would have much impact on the Grounds Department operation, however there are a number of things which had to be taken into account.

For starters, we knew that the multitude of wires and pipes which came out the side of the Clubhouse would need to be relocated.  This included:
  • Irrigation zone control wires and common wire.
  • Power wire for irrigation controller.
  • Communication wire for irrigation controller.
  • Fiber optic wire to the Cabana building.
  • 480 Volt line for putting green fan.

As we discussed last winter in Rewired we tried to prepare as best as possible for the impact the Clubhouse project would have.  One thing we knew would be close, was the irrigation main line that supplies water to everything on the front side of the Clubhouse.  Had we just needed to avoid the actual building, we would have probably been alright.  However, with a 12' vertical cut for the new foundation, shoring had to be put in place away from the actual building, and the line moved.
The relocated 2" line is still not far from harm's way.

Here is a little before and after.  Prior to excavating the new foundation, the irrigation line is about 18" below ground level.

Now there is just a bit more change in the grade behind this line.  In this particular area, we also had to cut and cap where the three turf and shrub zones came off the main line.  Ideally, these can be tied back in for future irrigation once the building and landscaping are completed.


We had our fingers crossed as the excavator was digging a line for the storm drain last week, with our irrigation controller, pipes and valves all close by.  Thankfully, we had no geysers!


With silt fence and construction fencing surrounding it, we know that accessing the Clubhouse putting green has become a challenge for our members.  You are not alone, as getting blowers, mowers, and sprayers to the green, is also a challenge for the Grounds staff.  Sprinklers around the green were converted from full circle to part circle, in order to avoid hitting the fence and running onto the construction area.

Over at the pool area, the tennis irrigation supply line had run straight across the area where the splash pad is being built.  We cut this line along court #2, and rerouted it to feed courts #3 and 4.
Three turf zones and the tennis court irrigation were impacted by the splash pad.

Projects like this are exciting to take part in, and keep us on our toes, as the landscape literally shifts quickly.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Wacky Weather

If it seems as if weather is a topic frequently focused on, that is likely a correct assumption.  This is because of the fact that the weather has a very significant impact on most every decision made in the daily operation of the golf course.

After teasing us with October-like temperatures at the beginning of September, and plentiful rainfall throughout the summer, we should have known that there would be some form of payback required.
Despite a very cool beginning and ending, September was 2.5 degrees above average.

While this weekend was cool, the past week's temperatures in the upper 80's and low 90's felt more like July than the last week of September.  And, after averaging five inches of rain for the four month period of May-August, we had close to an 80% reduction in September with a mere 1.1".  As a matter of fact, since September 7, the golf course has only received 1/10" of rain.
The buried fairway sensors tell the tale of a slow dry down throughout September.  

It probably shouldn't come as a great surprise given the above average precipitation of the summer, but we are only now finding irrigation issues that hadn't surfaced all year.  This includes a handful of sprinklers not running in the rough, and part circle heads out of adjustment in their arcs.

When we think of fall, what often comes to mind is some of the best playing conditions of the year.  Cool temperatures and adequate rainfall means that the irrigation system can take a break, and there's little concern of turf disease or insect issues.  However, the long-range forecast looks like we'll be back in the 80's this week and there's little rain heading our way.

As we've said before, 2017 might end up being an "average" weather year when the books are closed, but from beginning to end, it continues to be a roller coaster ride, keeping us on our toes.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Peak to Peak

Have you ever run a marathon?  If you're like the vast majority of people, the answer is a definite, "No!".  However, for both the maintenance staff and the turf, the past two weeks have felt like back to back marathons.

The first push started as we prepared for one of the Club's premier events, the fall Member-Member.  We always coordinate our late summer aerification with the timing of this event in an effort to have the course in great condition.  With the wet weather of August delaying the completion of aerifiying, we knew having things completely healed would be close.  Based on comments from members who participated in the event, we got a nice thumbs up.

We had no time to pat ourselves on the back after the Member-Member, as Laurel Creek hosted the Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship last week, beginning with a Pro-Am on Monday, and concluding on Thursday.  Over 140 of the area's pros were competing for the title, and from beginning to end, this was a positive experience for all involved.

For starters, the communication with the PGA Section Staff was outstanding.  We had met to discuss course setup well ahead of time, and their were no last minute requests or surprises.  To the contrary, the PGA officials asked repeatedly if everything was good on our end, or if we needed anything.

It was also unusual, and refreshing that not one single time during this four day event were we asked the green speed.  To repeat, the number of times we were asked the speed was:  Zero.  That truly is something to take a step back and consider.  Pin placements were chosen by putting to a potential location, not by a number.

That being said, we did hear adjectives describing the putting surfaces, such as "fast," "slick" and "really fast."

Another thing the staff appreciated was how the players went  out of their way to thank them for the hard work they do.  We even had a player swing into the maintenance facility between #17 green and #18 tee to thank us.

While we saw some low scores posted the first two days, with the tees pulled back on the final day of competition, there were few red numbers to be found:
Terry Hertzog's -2 was one better than Dave Quinn.

Despite two straight weeks of abuse, both the turf and staff held up extremely well!  The guys will be very happy to back off double-mowing for a few days.  However, it's now on to the next challenge, as we have July-like temperatures to deal with for a bit...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On a Roll

The new greens roller we acquired this year has been a great addition to our equipment inventory.  In particular, following aerification, we can do a much better job of smoothing the greens with this roller than with the triplex roller we have used for years.

One of the reasons we had been hesitant to purchase a "sidewinder" roller in the past, was that most of these machines are transported from green to green on a trailer, and/or pulled by a utility vehicle.

The additional time required to load and unload the roller onto a trailer would have meant that we needed two rollers to get the job completed ahead of play.  Besides the two rollers, we would also need two utility vehicles to pull them, as well as two of our best equipment operators to use the machines.

In contrast to this, the roller we purchased needs no trailer or utility vehicle to transport it from hole to hole.  With the push of a button, the wheels lower, and the machine zips from green to green.  Below is the roller leaving #9 green:
Wheels down for transport.

Finding the self-transporting machine finally sold us on a sidewinder that would fit into our maintenance program.  We can now get all of the greens rolled in just slightly more time than our old triplex roller, without needing any additional personnel, or tying up any additional equipment.
Wheels are raised when rolling.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Project Time

Although we are just a week removed from Labor Day, we are already starting on some project work that will improve the golf course in the future.  This fall we will be renovating one acre of Fescue, between #7 and 13.

This past week, we started by cutting the area down.  Some might say that playability has already improved here!

Over the next several weeks we will be making herbicide applications to this area.  If you see it roped off, or "Keep Out" signs, please do not enter--we don't want the herbicide tracked onto the primary rough or fairways.  As we did during the renovation work last year, ball retrievers will be placed outside the area for you to use.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Looking Back and Planning Ahead

While it's much more fun to write about our successes on the course, it would be unrealistic to think that everything we do works to perfection.  We knew there would be challenges following last year's Master Plan work, and that we would need to tweak our maintenance practices in many areas.  For example, bunker maintenance has changed dramatically, with many new bunkers being hand raked, and the faces being rolled.  Additionally, with the creation of new mounding in the rough, and bunkers being shifted closer to the greens, we now use a smaller mower to maintain these areas.

A third area that changed has been the Bentgrass green surrounds, which are mowed by hand.  For the most part, these areas made it through the year in good shape, however some spots suffered damage.  Clearly, the surrounds on  #16 took the biggest hit.  In analyzing why this happened, it's good to keep in mind that when turf "goes south" it's often not for a single reason, but a combination of factors which push it over the edge.

One of the issues we see on #16 is mechanical stress from both maintenance equipment and foot traffic.  The walk on-walk off area of this green really funnels everyone into the same tight space.  Likewise, with the bunkers now pulled in closer, we see mowers and rollers struggling to make wide turns.

A second factor here became drainage (or lack thereof).  When these surrounds were rough, being cut at 2", a wet swale wasn't as susceptible to damage as it now is, when it is Bentgrass being cut at 3/8".
The green surrounds on #16 don't look bad...from a distance.

A third problem was that we applied the exact same fertility and plant protectants to the Bentgrass surrounds as we did to the greens.  A reasonable question might be:  What could go wrong when you're treating this new sod just as you do the most important turf on the course?  Well, it turns out that the sod isn't accustomed to the high rates of plant growth regulators we apply to the greens.  So, in this case, treating an area just like a green may have led to more stress, not less.

Timing might be a fourth factor for #16.  This was the last hole worked on in 2016, which limited our ability to get the sod well established, and aerified prior to the winter.

Lastly, as the USGA article below noted, we were not alone in having issues in Bentgrass this summer.


For now, the thin turf has been seeded, and we look to install drainage over the winter.  Again, most of the new areas performed well, but we see many opportunities to make improvements.  Given the topsy-turvy weather we often experience, it seems prudent to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The devil is in the details...

You might think that the aerification process is the same now as it was 20 or 30 years ago.  However, quite a bit has changed both in terms of the equipment and labor we use in this process.

To start with, bigger isn't always better.  While our tractor-mounted aerifier can cover a whole lot of ground, the clean performance and tighter hole spacing that the walking machines give us, is now preferred.

We often say that the actual aerification process is pretty fast and simple--it's the cleanup afterwards that takes time and effort.  Once the aerification plugs have dried a bit, we separate the thatch and soil by using an old fairway mower which has verticut reels, and pulls a steel drag mat.  On a hot, dry day, this is a dirty job.


We then follow behind with our core harvesters, which pick up the thatch. 

Back in the day, the final cleanup was done by a tractor-mounted PTO blower.  Once again, we found the bigger machine wasn't necessarily the best machine for the job.  Today, we use up to 10 backpack blowers to do a final cleaning of the turf.  This is really labor intensive (and yes, another dirty job), but allows us to have a very clean finished product.

Some courses keep a set of old mowing units for cutting post-aerification, which they may refer to as mud or dirt reels.  Given our detailed cleanup, these are not necessary!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

It rained on our parade...

After extolling the wonderful weather last week, we should have known that we were in for some less than perfect conditions for aerifying.  Monday's green aerification went well...for most of the day.  However, just about the time we were going to give the greens a final blowing to redistribute the sand, it started to rain. 

The topdressing sand we use for filling the aerification holes is kiln-dried, which allows it to spread easily, quickly filling the holes.  Once this sand got wet, it was like trying to spread cake frosting across the greens.
Greens aerification started with sunny skies.

Tuesday came, and we aerified tees...in the rain.  Once again, both cleanup and working the topdressing sand into the holes were challenging activities.  We absolutely could not have gotten the job done without the great teamwork that took place.  This year, several members of the Pro Shop staff pitched in to help, which made a huge difference in our success.

We are moving on to fairways this week, and that can mean only one thing:  The weather forecast is calling for temperatures well above average.  To this, we say, "Bring it on!"  The team is ready to don their ear plugs and dust masks and tackle this important task!  


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wonderful Weather

Often times, it seems like all we do is complain about the weather (especially at this time of year).  So, in an effort to be fair and balanced, let it be known that we are extremely grateful for the great weather we have had the past week.
Looking back down #12 from the green.

When it comes to giving the turf a break, cool nights are equally as valuable to us as cool days.  Any August morning when we need to throw on a light jacket is welcomed, and we were happy to have a few of them this week.

Some folks have already forgotten the six heat waves we experienced before August, and are referring  to this as an "easy" year.  While this may end up being just an "average" year when the books are closed on it, it has had its share of challenges, including way too much rain for many local courses.

The forecast looks like we will have good weather for aerification this week.  Less stress going into this process will hasten recovery and get us set up for some great conditions this fall.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Touting Our Tote Uses

If you read the Repurposed post last month, we discussed a way we had found to reuse the totes which liquid fertilizer comes in.  A quick zip with a reciprocating saw gave us a great container for storing divot mix.


Well, the creative juices were at work again recently, and we found another time-saving use for these totes.

We often need to water plantings around the Clubhouse, and it is impractical to hook up a hose. Once again, a search on Amazon led us to what we were looking for:  A 12 volt, self-priming pump, with 4+ gallon per minute flow.

We now have the ability to take close to 300 gallons of water wherever we need it.  In addition to making the watering easier during the summer, this can also be used as a water supply when we are pressure washing the bridges over the winter.

When not needed, the tote and attached pump slide right out of the utility vehicle.  Who knows what the next use for these totes will be...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

To mow or not to mow...

...that is the question.  While rainfall is often welcome after a long dry period, the unpredictability of summer storms can lead to some tough choices.

For example, between July 22 and 23, the course received just under 2" of rain.  When we arrived on Monday, July 24, the turf was pretty juicy, and not in the ideal condition for us to be cutting fairways.  However, the weather prognosticators were calling for the possibility of additional storms Monday night.  If that occurred we were looking at going five days between fairway mowings.  This would be messy and have the potential for "scalping" the plant.
Slight mechanical damage can be seen on a fairway following a mowing under wet conditions.

While our focus is primarily on turf being cut as low as 0.10", we often see summertime mowing issues in home lawns as well.  Cutting the lawn when it is under drought stress can really set things back.

Of course, cutting when the backyard is saturated isn't a whole lot better.

As it turned out, while the conditions on Monday were less than ideal for mowing fairways, it was the correct decision.  Monday night, the "hit or miss" storms hit us again, depositing an additional inch of rain on the golf course, and leaving us saturated on Tuesday.

Working around the weather is never dull, and can be frustrating.  This weekend, they were predicting a rare summer nor'easter, and had us on the 2"+ line for rainfall.  Instead, we received 0.2" of rain--only 10% of what was forecast...